Improving food safety is the goal of a new partnership between Mars, Inc. and IBM Research, the companies announced.

In the Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain, scientists from the two companies will use genetic data to better understand and improve food safety.

Initially, their research will focus on selected raw materials and factory environments but the work will ultimately extend up and down the entire food supply chain and include applications for farmers.

The research, which is claimed to be the largest-ever metagenomics study, aims to categorize and understand micro-organisms and the factors that influence their activity in a normal, safe factory environment. According to the companies, this work could lead to new insights into how micro-organisms interact within a factory ecology.

The consortium's scientists will start by investigating the genetic fingerprints of living organisms such as bacteria, fungi or viruses and how they grow in different environments, including countertops, factories and raw materials. This data will be used to further investigate how bacteria interact, which could result in new ways to view supply chain food safety management.

According to the two firms, while many food companies such as Mars already have rigorous processes in place to ensure food safety risks are managed appropriately, this pioneering application of genomics will enable an in-depth understanding and categorization of micro-organisms on a much bigger scale than has previously been possible.

"By mining insights from genomic data, we're seeking to understand how to identify, interpret and ultimately create healthy and protective microbial management systems within the food supply chain," explained Jeff Welser, vice president and lab director at IBM Research – Almaden.